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The New Face of Maastricht, Annemarie Penn-te Strake Mayor of the City

Last July, Annemarie Penn-te Strake came into office as Mayor of Maastricht and since then has been the face of the city. She is the successor of the controversial former mayor, Onno Hoes. One can say that this was a remarkable decision given her apolitical background and unaffiliation to any political party. Just like the impressive city hall, Annemarie Penn-te Strake is an exceptional woman. A former judge and public defender, she is the first woman to become Mayor of the city. Last Wednesday, we had the pleasure of asking her a number of questions at the majestic city hall. She is an imposing woman who exudes warmth and experience. Read more about her and her experience as the Mayor of Maastricht.

Interview & Text: Karissa Atienza
Interview & Photography: Brian Megens

© Brian Megens

Annemarie Penn-te Strake

Who is Annemarie?
I’m an optimist. I have a positive outlook in life and I try to experience life in a light manner. When I think of something, find something, or do something, it has to be well thought over. In my work, I try to do things as best as I can – although I am not a person that strives for perfection – without taking my feelings into account. I do what my conscience says and what my inner self considers the best thing to do.

© Brian Megens

The office of the Mayor

How has your legal background helped you as a mayor?
I went to law school in what was then Katholieke Universiteit Nijmegen, where I studied Dutch law. At the same time, my friend and I opened a legal clinic where student-lawyers gave judicial help and advice for free. After university, I travelled to Africa for 2 years to do development work, so no law. When I came back, I thought to myself, what would I like I do with my study? The only thing I wanted to do was to become a judge because then you work in law in its purest form. There is no goal of making money or being part of a certain party. You’re working in how law should be put and used in society. As a judge, you also have an independent role and I liked that so I did my 6 years training to become a judge. I was in the judicial system for 35 years. I was a judge for 20 years while the years after that, I worked in the public prosecution.

What I learned as a judge is to analyse problems in a hygienic way, make a judgement based on it, and communicate it in a polite manner. As a public prosecutor, you have to make decisions at crises situations, so there I learned to make decisions in a quick, fast manner. Working in public prosecution brings you closer to society while as a judge you are quite independent and separated. It’s just you, your files, and your judgement. Altogether, I feel that my experience has been a great gift in helping me do this amazing job.

© Brian Megens


How has your experience been so far?

This job has been even better than I expected! The work has been exactly what I had hoped it would be and even more. It’s very close to society, and the people and the parties in our town. Everyone is very important in the welfare and well being of our city. It’s a great privilege to be able to work here. Our civil servants work very well and I’m very happy with how I am supported by all the men and women I work with.
Together with my colleagues and other mayors, we work on several very interesting themes. What can we do, not only for the city of Maastricht, but also for the whole region and the province? What is also very interesting is of course, the meaning of the university to our town. We are looking at the different ways to connect this beautiful city to the university and the students. It’s going better and better from what I see, but of course, there is still a lot to do.

© Brian Megens

If you look at the map of Maastricht and the south of Limburg, you realise Maastricht is in the heart of the Euregio. Everyday we think about how can we make a connection with Belgium and Germany on several aspects like security, labour market, environment and culture. It’s very important for this town to realise the meaning of our environment. In one way, it has a lot of potential, but also the borders are a problem because of the different legal systems. With the university, we are trying to look at solutions to this legal border.

What is your personal experience with Maastricht University?
As a mayor, I realised how important the existence of our university is to the town. I live in the city centre, and having all these young people with all their different languages walking around makes Maastricht special. Imagine Maastricht with only old buildings and the elder population. The university makes it necessary, and these students make it necessary, for us as a city to look forward to the future and to organise things that are attractive to young people, not only for the university students but also young locals.

© Brian Megens

How do you see the future of the university?
If I can dream about the university, I hope that it becomes even bigger. I hope that in The Hague, they recognise that this university was born to be one of the best international university in Europe.

What do you like about Maastricht?
It’s the feeling. I really love the city and I’ve lived here now for almost 25 years. What Maastricht has is a combination of old history, which gives you a certain feeling of wellness. Life is good here. When I say this, I realise that this is not the case for everybody; of course there are people who are poor, don’t have work or are lonely here. But for me, Maastricht has this feeling of a warm blanket around you.

© Brian Megens

Annemarie Penn-te Strake

 

Maastricht of.. Onno Hoes, the mayor of Maastricht

You might have heard of this name: Onno Hoes. Whether have heard about him in positive or negative aspect, this doesn’t justify who he really is.  The mayor of Maastricht, whose private life regrettably played a big part on his term in public office, welcomed us with open arms to do this interview. It gave us an insight to a man, who is sympathetic, and with whom you can hold conversation about a wide range of topics.

We were invited to the City Hall on the Markt on a sunny afternoon. The time for the interview was not that long, but still enough to ask all the questions we had and take some pictures. We hope you enjoy it.

Ashika Baan: What is your favourite bar or restaurant?
Onno Hoes: It really depends on my mood. When I feel like having a drink I might go to Wyck, the neighbourhood in Maastricht that is considered as a young and hip quarter. It has attracted many young entrepreneurs and you can see that when you walk along the Wycker Grachtstraat. Café Zondag and Café Zuid are both nice places to have a drink with a nice atmosphere.
When I want something more traditional, there’s a wide variety of Michelin-star and highly praised restaurants that Maastricht is known for. It’s good to visit when your parents are in town, for instance!
However, on a Friday night you will find me at home after a long week, relaxing from the busy days that I’ve had.

Onno Hoes Interview

AB: What is a leading event in Maastricht that is important to you?
OH: This year I visited Bruis, a free music festival, spread out over 3 days. There were people of all age groups and the festival itself was different from anything I’ve seen before. It was refreshing and definitely worth being an annual tradition for Maastricht.
Of course, the concert that André Rieu gives each year are so typical for Maastricht, something you can’t NOT think of when considering Maastricht.

Onno Hoes Interview

AB: Where do you go to experience culture and art?
OH: I think that with the TEFAF (biggest European art fair in Maastricht) there is a certain expectation that Maastricht is a base for creative arts. This could be increased by opening more galeries, using empty premises and creating pop-up galeries throughout Maastricht. Of course, we have the Bonnefantenmuseum, which has amazing exhibits, definitely worth a visit!

AB: What is Maastricht’s best kept secret?
OH: I think the city wall is a very nice place to go for a walk, and experience the ambiance and history that Maastricht breathes, which you can’t just see when you walk through the shopping streets. When you walk past the University Library you see the remnants of the old, Roman city that Maastricht once was. Very interesting for the international students that come here!

Onno Hoes Interview

AB: What is your best memory of Maastricht?
OH: The first time I came to Maastricht, was when my sister Isa Hoes (actress, screenplay writer) was studying at the theater academy here. I remember walking from Wyck, over the bridge and loving the short distance between two different parts of the city. The modern and old with a connection through the Servaas-bridge. Another memory I have is when I walked with my ex-husband Albert Verlinde through Maastricht in 2002, I fell in love again with the city, which made it easy to be a mayor!

AB: Which person (historical figure, old friend) would you like to show Maastricht to?
OH: I think I’d like to show the Count of Artagnan (aka d’Artagnan, yes from the books of Dumas, the musketeers..), who died at the gates of Maastricht. I’d like to show him that Maastricht is free of the French reign.

AB: What is unique about Maastricht and the contact it has with the University?
OH: The collaboration that the Municipality of Maastricht has with the University is a very fruitful one. There is a special agena that the Municipal Council has with the Executive Board of the University. They meet once in a while to discuss the growth of the faculties and to tackle the phenomenon of too little student housing, which has been quite successful!
Something that I’d like to see change is that students come from far and close, but never stay in the region. There is a trend of young people leaving Limburg, when the province needs these young entrepreneurs and people of this generation. In my view more could be done to facilitate that more young people staying here.

Onno Hoes Interview

AB: What do you do to unwind or relax after a long day?
OH: I go home, open a window, hear the church bells and I feel happy.  A lucky person to be able to fulfil the position of mayor here. These moments of silent noise (so to speak) make me appreciate every day even more. Like a sunday morning!

AB: What makes Maastricht stand out?
OH: The fact that people value a high quality of living, is something that can really be felt here in Maastricht. People want quality in their living experience: food, clothes, going out. There is attention for you as a person here, there is room for entrepreneurship, good service and Maastricht provides that, which I think is special!

AB: Can you describe Maastricht in 3 words?
OH: International, young, dynamic.

AB: What would you recommend people that are new in Maastricht to do?
OH: I would tell them to give yourself to the city. In order to experience the city, don’t plan, just go into the center, walk around and see the churches, shopping people, beautiful architecture and history that the city oozes. This will make Maastricht worthwhile 🙂

Interview and text by Ashika Baan, Photgraphy by Brian Megens